Nightclubs and restaurants, many struggling under the burden of COVID restrictions, have generally welcomed the government’s decision to allow them to limit entrance to the fully vaccinated, according to the Malta Chamber of SMEs.

Health Minister Chris Fearne announced on Wednesday that these places will “enjoy further easing of social measures” if they bar the unvaccinated from their premises.

Times of Malta is informed that the majority of Paceville clubs, in particular, are eager to introduce the measure after pushing for it for weeks.

Restaurateurs are likewise keen to enjoy the advantages that would come with adopting the new door policy.

Malta Chamber of SMEs deputy president Philip Fenech said on Thurday that most of those operating in the leisure and entertainment industry were eager for a relaxation in some pandemic measures.

Although details are still scant, Fearne said opting to limit entrance to the fully vaccinated might allow establishments to extend their opening hours or shorten the distance between tables.

The new protocols have yet to be finalised, with a meeting between the chamber and the government to be held in the coming days. But, even without the fine details, those in the industry have already voiced their support for the move.

“Many see this as a positive move. With over 90% of the population vaccinated, it makes sense because most people would still be able to go to these places,” Fenech said.

He added the perks that come with opting in to the new policy would help owners deal with issues like staff shortages and the additional costs incurred from the extra measures currently in place.

The facility to provide a counter service – where people would be able to walk up to the bar and order drinks – would be especially helpful in light of the staff shortages, Fenech noted.

And allowing more people to sit at tables, with a shorter distance between the tables, would increase capacity and help improve establishments’ turnover. While Malta’s COVID-19 situation is currently stable, Fenech said it was crucial not to rush the reopening as this could result in case rises that, in turn, bring about more closures.

So the latest measure was “the way to do this”.

Many agreed that the decision should be taken by the owners and not forced upon them, Fenech added.

Some establishments do not seem very happy to have the choice though. According to Matthew Pace, spokesperson of the Association for Catering Establishments, owners “cannot understand” why the onus is falling on them.

“While we understand the health minister’s agenda, this burden of choice should not fall squarely on our shoulders.

“The association might have understood when measures were adopted before the arrival of the vaccine but fails to understand why these guidelines were left in place throughout the summer,” he said.

“The reduction of the table distancing and maximum number of persons per table should not be attached to an option but should have been done automatically.

”The association is also eager to discuss the matter further with the health authorities, Pace said.

Frank Grima, an owner of several bars and eateries all over the island, welcomed the decision, saying he hoped it would ease the problem of shortages in staff.

He pointed out that, once consumers had used up government vouchers, there would be fewer people dining out. Like others, he was struggling to keep his business going.

“With the rules in place and the lack of staff, anyone who orders a beer must wait around 20 minutes. This is forcing me to close my outlets in the morning. By restricting entry to the fully vaccinated, we hope people will be able to move around more freely,” he said.

Grima is not worried about losing sales from customers who are not vaccinated because he believes people are more likely to turn up if they think they will be in a safer environment.

Meanwhile, restaurateur Anthony Sultana said on Thursday he agreed that the decision should be up to the owners although, at the same time, he questioned how fair it was to put the onus on them.

Sultana believes restaurants should be open to all, with measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

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